Friday, January 19, 2018

The Case for Sin


Sometimes the answer to our questions is just staring us in the face and we are unable to see it.  I think this is the case today in our society, church, culture and even personal relationships.  We are neglecting a central part of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the idea that we need to be forgiven in order to be free to live as God intended. 

What is distressing to me as one who has dedicated a life to the mission of the Gospel is how few Christians talk about sin anymore.   Some Christians teach a lot about being born again, but I am not hearing that one needs to come to grips with his or her sin first.  Other Christians teach a lot about inclusion, but I don't see much introspection about how our own sinfulness may be what  is dividing our communities.  Lot's of people are going to mega churches and following TV preachers to "find their best life now" or to get a "special blessing" and will sign up for seminars, buy books, and contribute money without doing the one thing that is actually necessary to actually turn their life around.  Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Psalms 32:5 (NRSV) 

Perhaps most distressingly, many of the right wingers and left wingers who are manning the barricades of the culture wars to right the wrongs of society are utterly blind to the fact that it is most often our own sin which obstructs us from building a more blessed and beloved community.  It is not the sins of those whom we dislike that we need to deal with first, it is the sins committed by ourselves.

Don't get me wrong people believe in sin, it just that we like to look for it in others, not ourselves.  This is the ultimate spiritual struggle and we are called to enter the fray.   For until we experience forgiveness we will not be free and we will not be healed.  Our created purpose is to be people at peace with God and the world and that can not occur until we are relieved of the burden of sin which weighs so closely.

The simple fact of the matter is that we cannot understand the true power of the Gospel unless we start to grasp what Christ has freed us from.  Lutherans traditionally have always talked about the big three, sin, death and the devil.  Notice which one is first.  Sin leads to death and it leads us to open the door to evil in our lives.  Confession and forgiveness is basically preventive medicine to help us be whole. 

This leads us to be forgiving of others, because when we begin to understand that we are not perfect we can better appreciate that our neighbors, co-workers, classmates and family members are not perfect either.   Two key outreach actions of the church in wider society are dependent on a healthy appreciation of our own sinfulness, evangelism and advocacy for the marginalized.  In order to effectively reach out in both ways we have to appreciate our own  history of sin, forgiveness, and new life, as well as our dependence on God to guide us when we do not know the way.

What we can never do is engage this process of confession and forgiveness with an attitude of complacency that we have somehow finished the job.  The world is still waiting for redemption as are we.  So we must daily go once more into the breach, confess our sin, and need for God's help and to hear the word of promise that we are forgiven through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

I understand our reluctance to talk about sin openly; it is certainly easier in the short run to avoid seeing that negative aspects of our lives.  Some  churches today don't really want to make people feel guilty by pointing out that its members are not perfect, so they avoid the topic.   However, the Word is clear While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. Psalms 32:3 (NRSV)

Guilt doesn't come from talking about sin; it comes from unresolved sin.   The church that refuses to talk about sin is doomed experience it in soul crushing ways.  When I fist figured out that God loved me even though I have done things that I should not have, I felt peace.   I would never have experienced true peace for even a brief second if I had not talked to God about the truth of who I am.   So I am making the case that we talk about sin, most importantly our own, so we can know the power of Christ who has forgiven us.  So give me that old-time religion where sinners are forgiven and loved by a gracious God.

Be blessed

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Bible Challenge


I challenge you to read the Bible in 2018. Not parts of the Bible, the whole thing. “We must learn to know the Scriptures once again… as our fathers knew them. We must not grudge the time and work it takes. We must know the Scriptures first and foremost for the sake of our salvation. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together)

To be a Christian is to be a person of the Word of God. We were called into a relationship with God through the Word. As we say in the Lutheran Church, it is the source and norm of our faith. It is the place we go to find out about how we should deal with the central issues of life. Contemporary culture may not hold the Bible in high esteem, but that is to its detriment; it need not be ours. We have the gifts of God given to us through the Word, we must not throw them away, or relegate them to dust covered bookshelves in the spare bedrooms of our lives. Our life and our salvation is the most precious gift we have, therefore the Word should have pride of place.

Yes, the Whole Enchilada!

While every person of faith has parts of the Bible they like better than others, it is important to read the whole story so that we may know the strengths and weaknesses of our faith. We can at times place ourselves in a spiritual feedback loop, which constantly confirms long held beliefs without question or introspection. This happens often with devotionals that only use individual verses, or churches that only follow a lectionary with narrow range of the wider body of Scripture. Focusing on pieces of Scripture to the exclusion of the whole story of salvation can stunt the growth of a faith life or leave one ill equipped when life brings new challenges. Holy Scripture does not consist of individual passages; it is a unit and it is intended to be used as such (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together)

Christians are People of the Book


To be a Christian is to be in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We cannot do that without the reading of Scripture. “Consecutive reading of biblical books forces everyone… to put (oneself)… where God has acted once and for all for the salvation of (people).” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together) In other words, God’s story becomes our story, and yes vice versa our lives become part of God’s story too. Regular Bible reading changes who we are and that can be a blessing to others and even the entire world.

As one who reads history often I can tell you that so many of the blessings that we have today were inspired by those who steeped their entire lives in the biblical story. From things such as the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, child labor laws, to the freedom of individual conscience, the story of God’s salvation inspired those who fought for these things. “The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.” (Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451) I challenge you to be a Bible person (not a thumper) one who lets God’s story breathe through their life. As you will read in the Gospels, Jesus lived in exactly this way; just look at how many times he quotes the Hebrew Scriptures.

How to Start

If you have not read the Bible regularly before, I encourage you to begin by reading 1-2 chapters continuously of the New Testament daily beginning with Mathew’s Gospel and ending with Revelation. By doing this, you will complete the New Testament in well under a year. As Christians, we read the rest of the Bible through the eyes of Christ, so this is the best place to start.

If you have some experience with the Bible, perhaps a chapter of the Old Testament read continuously, with a Psalm, and when you finished them, a chapter from Proverbs, followed by a chapter of the New Testament. You will not finish the Bible in a year, but will have read the majority of it.

To complete the Bible in a year you can google a plan, there are many available, or you might read 5-6 chapters of Scripture a day. It is important not to get bogged down when you get to those sections of Scripture that can seem monotonous, such as descriptions of the temple furnishings, genealogies, or obscure parts of the Torah. It is important therefore to have a mix of Old Testament and New Testament readings. It is also OK to skim these parts, as long as you aware of what you are leaving out. The goal is the familiarity with the big story of the Bible. I hope that this can be blessing for you in 2018 and you too can let the story of God breathe through your life.

Be blessed
Pastor Knecht

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Pastor Knecht's Christmas Letter to the Congregation

December 2017

The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 NRSV

Dear Family and Friends of Holy Cross,

It is my great pleasure to wish you a merry Christmas and a blessed New Year.   I pray that you may know the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ as we rejoice in the message of his coming.

The verse quoted above is a traditional reading for Christmas day.  The Gospel of John has a very different Christmas story than we are used to.   The true meaning of Christmas is shared in a very direct way. His account begins at the start of creation and shows how God was working to save the world from the beginning of time.   Jesus is the light coming into our dark world.   He is the redeemer sent to bring home those who are in darkness.  He is our Savior, the true light, which comes into the world for all people.

This year many will find our world to be a dark place. Our comminutes have become divided over politics and culture.   Many may feel threatened or that their way of life is in jeopardy.   Now more than ever people need to know about Jesus who by his coming death and resurrection overcomes the divisions of our world.  They need to know that God dwelled among us and knows what we are going through.  Most of all, people need to know that Jesus has given people who have faith in him the gift of eternal life so that they are not held captive to fear, but free to live in hope.

We invite you to join us at Holy Cross this year as we celebrate of the coming of God’s Son.  Our Christmas Eve schedule is as follows.

Sunday December 24th       10AM Sunday School Christmas Pageant
                                            11AM  Live Animal Nativity and Fellowship
                                            5PM Christmas Eve Candlelight Communion

I wish you and yours all God’s blessings this Christmas,


Pastor Knecht 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Showing up for Christmas


But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. (Galatians 4:4-5 NRSV)

Incarnation

The saying goes, ninety percent of life is just showing up.   Indeed, showing up is a good way to explain what God has done in the story of the coming of Jesus Christ. God showed up to be with us in our world.  Jesus would be called Immanuel, Hebrew for the "with us" God. 

One simple thing that I have  through life learned is that people show up because they care. Some of the most powerful moments I have seen are when someone shows up to something important to me when I did not expect that person to be there. Likewise, some of life's greatest disappointments are when someone I counted on to be there for me failed to arrive. To show up or not, is a vote about whether we care or not. 

The people who really care are those who have the love to show up not only when they approve of things, or are comfortable, but those who show up when they are disappointed or know that arriving will bring mixed feelings.  This is the kind of showing up modeled in the coming of Jesus Christ through the miracle of the incarnation. This kind of showing up has a word to describe it, forgiveness.

Compassion

What compels someone to show up in situations that are not easy, or even dangerous? How can we forgive those who have hurt us? The Gospel clearly shows that the motivation of this kind of thing is always love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." (John 3:16-17 NRSV) Love is that which bridges the gap caused by sin in our relationships with God and others.

I am asking you to consider remembering those who showed up in your life when times were bad, and especially those who showed up after your actions had hurt them. These are those that love you.  These are those who have compassion for you. Compassion in popular parlance is synonymous with empathy.  In theological terms, compassion is much more; it sticks to its root meaning in Latin, to suffer with.  To forgive means to accept suffering for love, the person offering forgiveness always suffers a bit to extend it.  So yes, forgiveness hurts. The bible reminds us there is no forgiveness without some sacrifice. "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Hebrews 9:22 NRSV)

The word compassion is a great shorthand Gospel summary.  God has empathy and decides to come and show up to be with us in our time of need.  Even though our need has been created by our own failures, mistakes, and lashing out, God still shows up. This is love. This is the meaning behind the hope of Advent and the promise of Christmas.

Be blessed
Pastor Knecht


Friday, November 3, 2017

The Rule of Grace

Where Do You See God's Grace? 

This entire year throughout the world people have remembered, celebrated, and discussed the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.   The central tenet of the movement was a renewed understanding of God's saving grace.  Simply put, God acts first to bring us to him.  We don't act first to approach God.   This truth is revealed in the letter of Paul to the Ephesians "he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth." (Ephesians 1:9-11 NRSV) The reformers asked the tough question; are our church's practices consistent with the person and work of Jesus Christ.   This is the critical question for our time today.   Are our actions reflecting the love shown to us in the life, death, resurrection and love of Jesus Christ.

A couple of key points to remember are:

1. God decided to love us by sending Christ, we had no choice in the matter. 

2.  Christ did the work of cross and resurrection without our help.

3.  God asks us to be gracious to others in the same way God has been gracious to us.

These points are summed up in Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.... For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, (NRSV)  

The Rule of Grace 

Intentional Christian communities often live by a rule.  The most well known being the Rule of St. Benedict.  The monastic rule is less a series of commands than a formula.   It is a way of going through the day in which one encounters God.  Time is measured through prayer and worship.  The time is allotted for meaningful work, meditation, tending relationships and rest.   It is through following this rule that communities hope to walk with God and be a blessing to their neighbors.  Like one would expect living in a mixed up world with mixed up people, sometimes this worked and sometimes it did not.   The times it did work was when the communities were guided by the higher rule (or as Paul would say the more excellent way).  This higher rule is one that binds all Christians.  We are to follow the Rule of Grace; we are to be a gift for the world, giving gifts to the world.

Using the above definition of the Rule of Grace, I would like you to think about applying it in three ways.   First, as challenge or command to be a person who is gracious in his or her dealings.   We are called to be people who understand that God's grace is not limited to spiritual things.  The material blessings we have, home, food, leisure, job, community and the natural beauty of this world are all evidence of a gracious God's provision.

Second, that we use the Rule of Grace as formula to guide how we should look at things, solve problems and contribute to the life of our community, country, and world.  When dealing with an issue we ask how does this stand in the light of God's grace.

Finally, we let the Rule of Grace rule our hearts and minds.  We approach God in prayer and understand that though we may try to earn, build or work grace, that is not what gives us dignity and salvation.  That has been already given by God through the person and work of Jesus Christ.   Being people of grace we humbly understand that it is our Lord who ultimately in control.  We are therefore freed from fear of sin, death, and rejection, because we know that God is good and God loves us. 

The World Needs People of Grace 

One things that seems to unite all sides in the debates raging in society today is a lack of graciousness. Partisans from all political, social and religious groups  have decided that demonization and judgement of their opponents (or convenient targets) is the only way to achieve goals.   Our Lord did not act like this, God gave grace precisely when it was not deserved or earned.  This changed the world.   Being people of grace is good news not just for us alone but for those who interact with us on a daily basis.  This is not just about us.  Grace is God's gift to the world.   So I am asking you to live by the Rule of Grace and let grace rule your life.

Be blessed
Pastor Knecht

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Holy Cross to participate in the Homeless Sabbath Weekend December 17th

Community Access Unlimited, Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless, Family Promise of Union County, Gateway Family YMCA, HomeFirst, Iris House, Monarch Housing and the Union County Interfaith Coordinating Council are asking us to please join them for this year for a “call to action” on the second annual Homeless Sabbath Weekend December 15-17, 2017, on behalf of all people who are homeless in Union County. We at Holy Cross are pleased to be a part of this ministry! So we will remember the homeless in worship and show how our church is working to house those in need in our area.

What Can I Do for My Homeless Neighbors?

Donate – Union County has a full continuum of services for the homeless provided by non-profits. Even a small contribution can help their clients find a place to call home;

Volunteer – all the non-profits need volunteers to help in their work to end homelessness. Every age,skill and talent are needed;


Attend -- the Homeless Persons Memorial Day Vigil December 21 st 7PM at the First Presbyterian Church of Cranford to help remember our neighbors who died due to lack of housing and supportive
services;

Engage – talk to your family, your neighbors, your co-workers and elected officials about homelessness in Union County and how we need to work together to end homelessness. To achieve

that goal, we need to change the conversation and focus on the needs of our neighbors;

Form a homeless ministry - Begin discussions that focus on what more your congregation can do to end homelessness.

Please share this with your neighbors and encourage them to join you in worship with us on the 17 th orthe vigil on the 21 st.

Thank you in advance for your participation.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

What's our Pitch?

"Perception is reality" the old saying goes.  Changing how people see things can give them new incentives to  change directions and live a better life.  Transforming a world view can lead to all kinds of behavioral changes. If advertisers can make a pitch to make us think that we need something and then we go and buy it then they have done their job. I really don't need a smartphone, but somehow I have come to think I can't live without it. Their pitch worked.

The more perceptive among us may argue, is this not what we do when we get up to preach every Sunday?   Are we not working with a Biblical text to encourage our audience to see the world and God in different ways? Yes, we are. We are making a pitch.   This is one of the most important things we do when gather together in Christ.  We lift up the truth of God's Word so that people can open their minds and hearts to a different way of seeing the world.  This means seeing God and our selves through the lens of faith.  St. Paul wrote in Romans 10:17 So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ. (NRSV)   We are using words to change reality.

As the Gospel does this, however so does the world.  Part of the reason we are where we are as a society today is that people have made their own pitch and many have believed it.  People have heard the pitch men and pitch women of the world claim that only material matters, or only what is practical is important, or it's all someone else's fault,  or they are not as deserving as you, or we are exceptional and others are not, or you can have whatever god you want.   The devil knows how to make a pitch, he's been doing since the garden.  The devil suckered Eve, and she suckered Adam.  Viral marketing is much older than we think.

However, the Word that Jesus is Risen, changes things for real.  The Gospel, that we can be part of the kingdom, has the power to renew our lives for the better.    Our most precious gift is the promise of the Gospel.  There is a single common humanity. Jesus became human to prove God is with us in our humanity.   Instead we believed the pitch of world and put him to death.   God raised Jesus to prove, that we will not be let go so easily.  God will love us no matter what.  We can be with God and others in wholeness and peace, even into eternal life.  We can love others by giving them hope.

Yes, we do give a Pitch, but this message does not belong to us exclusively, it is the province of God.  So our most important work at Holy Cross is tending to life of the Gospel in our congregation.  Proclaiming it to our neighbors, while living it out ourselves.   Our preaching will continue to be vital.  So I will do my best to make sure it sourced, prayed over, and worked at.  Because we are are making the Pitch we must remember that every word we speak matters.  We must keep in minds that  this is really not our Pitch, but God's, and its heart is: John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (NRSV)

We in the church will always hope in the Gospel. We will need to demonstrate the truth of our pitch by living it ourselves, so we need to feed the hungry, pray for the sick, uphold the dignity of those despised by society, and make a commitment to use our words intentionally  Indeed this is the day the Lord has made, and we are called to be glad in it.

Be blessed

Pastor Knecht